A Trio of Stories about Facebook in Prineville, Oregon

Facebook decided to build its first wholly owned data center in Prineville, Oregon. I grew up in Eugene, Oregon, and Prineville has always seemed, pardon my French, the ass end of nowhere. But that's a medium-sized city boy's statement: Prineville has a rich history, and it's in a gorgeously severe landscape. It's the kind of place people escape to, not just from. That said, employment opportunities were never great, and now are terrible, with a 16% unemployment rate (the actively looking), and god knows how many people who have opted out of the workforce entirely and perhaps forever. It's a rough place to make a living, because the closest big neighbor is Bend, and it's far from everywhere else.That make Facebook's decision interesting. They located there for the climate. They're using a new paradigm in data center operations in which instead of bringing in huge, expensive, and energy-sucking air-conditioning systems to cool servers, and locating near the cheapest possible power (such as near the Columbia River, where many data centers were built in the last several years) fresh air is sucked in and lightly modified as needed. A friend took a job as the #2 guy at the data center, and he suggested I visit. I had that elevated into an official press visit, and went down a couple of weeks ago for a long afternoon. Facebook is very interested in spreading the word about its approach, and in getting favorable publicity about its actions. With that in mind, I was still quite impressed with the frankness of the answers I got to my questions, the extent of what they showed me, and how excited and upbeat everyone is about the work they're doing. I wrote three Economist.com posts at the Babbage blog about my trip, focusing on different big-picture angles illustrated through smaller stories:

  • Social desert, about why the data center is in Prineville, anyway.
  • Mad crush, looking at a failed hard drive's journey through the facility and Facebook's privacy issues.
  • Mi data, su data (which I wanted to title "Don't fence me in"), looking at why the Facebook data center campus has no fence.

What was neat about the trip was the chance to visit with my buddy Chuck, with whom I stayed overnight (and he fed me steak, thank you, Chuck), catch up briefly with a friend from high school who works security there, and chat with a former Seattle data center guy I knew who had followed Chuck south. I knew nearly 10% of the staff! It's a social place.